A number of regional NHS authorities in England are approving the use of Avastin (pictured) instead of Lucentis for ophthalmology patients.
Unlicensed Avastin (bevacizumab) is similar to EU-approved Lucentis (ranibizumab), but is now frequently preferred as a treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) to Lucentis due to its lower cost.
The Southampton, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Portsmouth (SHIP) PCT cluster says the change in treatment could save the local health service £5 million a year.
Dr Stuart Ward, Medical Director for SHIP PCT Cluster, said: “The policy approved by the Board simply gives consultants authority to offer their patients the choice of Avastin which, until now, has not been routinely available on the NHS. Patients will be given clear information about the effectiveness and safety of the alternative drug and will be able to discuss this with their consultant before making their choice.”
The PCT Cluster says the initial feedback from local patients who have using Avastin has been positive, with the majority saying their vision had improved or stabilised.
The North East Treatment Advisory Group in the north of England estimated a potential saving of £4 million a year if all AMD patients were treated with Avastin rather than Lucentis.
The Cluster is now working with local providers of AMD treatment to implement the new policy.
In response to the rise in patients choosing Avastin over Lucentis, Novartis UK are understood to be considering reducing the price of Lucentis.
Tim Cave, Medical Director for the company in the UK, said: “We’re worried that in looking at efficiency people are throwing out the principle of keeping patients safe.”
A US government study in May showed that Avastin was as effective at treating AMD as Lucentis. The trial compared Lucentis against the off-label use of Avastin and found it had comparable efficacy in improving vision compared to Novartis’ AMD product, and is also available at fraction of the price.
Roche’s Avastin is licensed in the EU as a treatment for metastatic breast cancer in combination with paclitaxel.